ALMEDIA — With the offensive numbers Pine Grove put up this season, it would be reasonable to assume an eight-run outburst came with plenty of extra-base hits or homers in Thursday’s PIAA Class 3A softball quarterfinals at Central Columbia High School.
However, Warrior Run’s season came to an end not with a bludgeon, but by 1,000 little cuts.
The undefeated Cardinals put together a seven-run bottom of the fourth with just one ball hit out of the infield, while pitcher Olivia Lehman allowed only one hit as Pine Grove knocked off the Defenders, 8-0.
“Going into the game we thought we might have to play small ball, and we executed it really well,” Pine Grove coach Ryan Leffler said. “Make them make the play. You make a bobble, we have the speed, we’re safe.”
Pine Grove (26-0) will face Bloomsburg in Monday’s semifinals. Warrior Run’s season ends at 21-4.
The game began as a pitchers’ duel between Lehman and Warrior Run’s Madi Waltman. Pine Grove’s senior lefty was perfect through the first five innings against the Defenders.
“We stuck to our game plan with (Lehman),” Leffler said. “She’s painted the corner all year long. She relies on her defense and they played outstanding.”
“We had to keep (the ball) out of the air and put pressure on them,” Warrior Run coach Garth Watson said. “That’s one thing we didn’t do today is put any pressure on them.”
After striking out six times against Lehman the first time through the order, the Defenders got more aggressive against the lefty, only striking out once more the rest of the way.
“We knew she threw a lot of first-pitch strikes. She’s always around the zone, and she’s not overpowering,” Watson said. “So we knew when she threw that first-pitch strike, we had to get on it.”
However, Warrior Run still didn’t get its first runner until Lauren Watson reached on an error open the sixth inning, but the Defenders went quietly after that.
In the seventh, Gracy Beachel singled for Warrior Run’s only hit in the top of the seventh, but a fielder’s choice and two pop outs sent the Cardinals into the semifinals.
Pine Grove — a team held to less than double digits just once this season — didn’t score in the first three innings.
“That’s the best pitcher we’ve faced all year. I thought we had a good game plan for them,” Leffler said. “The girls worked really hard against our assistant coach, who pitched at St. Francis (Ethel Santai). They just had two straight days of hitting off her, but I still thought we’d have to play small ball.”
In the fourth, Megan Wolfe walked, while Avery Nagle and and Maura Lehman each beat out bunt base hits — the first two hits of the game for Pine Grove — to load the bases.
Cameron Stine then laid down a bunt. Wolfe scored and throwing error brought Nagle around to score for a 2-0 lead.
“Those bunts were in those no-man land spots and (Pine Grove) is fast,” Watson said. “We knew it was going to happen, the push bunts. It wasn’t a surprise. It’s kind of disheartening that they hit two balls out of the infield and scored eight runs.”
An error re-loaded the bases before the first out of the inning. A bases-loaded walk made it 3-0, before Taylor Kopenitz singled — the lone hit out of the infield in the inning — for a 5-0 advantage. A wild pitch and Olivia Lehman’s RBI bunt single made it 7-0.
The Cardinals added an eighth run in the fifth on an error, a sacrifice and Casey Karshner’s RBI groundout.
PIAA CLASS 3A QUARTERFINAL
at Central Columbia H.S.
PINE GROVE 8, WARRIOR RUN 0
Warrior Run`000`000`0 - 0-1-4
Pine Grove`000`710`x - 8-6-1
Madi Waltman and Jade Swartz. Oliva Lehman and Taylor Kopenitz.
WP: Lehman; LP: Waltman.
Warrior Run: Gracy Beachel 1-for-3.
Pine Grove: Kaitlyn Rittenbaugh, run, RBI; Kopenitz 1-for-4, 2 RBIs; Olivia Lehman 2-for-3, double, RBI; Maura Lehman 1-for-3, 2 runs.